Sage wins in five, claims crown

CYPRESS — The Sage Hill School girls' volleyball program's history with monolithic St. Margaret's has featured more back to the drawing board than it has back and forth.

But it was the Lightning who captured the majority of the momentum to claim a momentous victory over their Academy League rival, the Southern Section powerhouse Tartans, on Saturday night.

Sage Hill, which split its two league matches with St. Margaret's this season and shared the Academy League crown with the Tartans, earned a 27-29, 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, 15-9 triumph in the CIF Southern Section Division IV-AA title match at Cypress College.

It's the second section championship for Sage Hill (25-5), which swept St. Margaret's in the Division IV-A final in 2005.

Sage's latest victory denied St. Margaret's (20-10) the chance to repeat as IV-AA champion. The Tartans earned their fifth section crown last season and were handed their fourth defeat in their nine section title-match appearances.

"[The Tartans] won last year, they've got a long history and a great winning tradition," Sage Hill Coach Dan Thomassen said. "I thought going in that our best was better than theirs, but it's really close. It think if we play them 10 times, it's probably five [wins for] each side. We just had the better night and our girls were hungry."

Sage Hill was markedly better in the blocking department, where it scored 12 points to the Tartans' one.

Zoe Kreitenberg, Sage's 6-foot-2 senior middle blocker, had seven block assists and one solo stuff. She also had 15 kills, matching senior outside hitter Natasha Sakraney for team-high honors.

Freshman outside hitter Halland McKenna had 14 kills, three block assists and was one of five Lightning with one ace.

Junior Maggie Danner had 10 kills, four block assists and one stuff block to go with an ace, and freshman setter Maddy Abbott had 31 assists, three block assists and one ace.

Senior Alayna Lewis chipped in 13 assists, four kills, four block assists and one ace and Thomassen also credited freshman Kekai Whitford for contributing off the bench, despite battling the lingering effects of a torn abdominal muscle.

"[The Tartans] got a lot of touches, but we were blocking with authority, which is something we've been working on a lot the last month or two," Thomassen said.

Early leads were vital to winning each game, though Sage erased a 20-14 deficit to extend Game 1.

The Lightning were up by as many as eight in the second game and St. Margaret's rode an early five-point edge to victory in Game 3.

Sage was up, 4-1, 12-6 and 14-7 in Game 4. St. Margaret's closed to within 20-17, but Sage held on.

"It was a big momentum match," Thomassen said. "We knew that if we got the fourth game, we would have a lot of momentum going into the fifth and we rode it."

Sage scored the first four points of the decisive game, never led by fewer than two, and continued extending its advantage.

"We talked about how we felt we are the better team and all we need to do is prove that," Kreitenberg said of the Sage team huddle before the deciding game. "And that if we can fight and everyone can do their job, then we can work beautifully as a cohesive unit."

It was clear that Sage, with key players from every class, was just that.

"It's the greatest thing that's ever happened," said Kreitenberg, whom Thomassen said had one of the best matches of her career. "It's what we've been working so hard for all season and it's what I've been dreaming of since my freshman year."

Thomassen said he expects success in the near future from his program.

"We've been building this team with these seniors for four years," Thomassen said. "We have a great group of freshmen and everyone in between. We still feel like we'll be a little smaller, but we've got some real nice volleyball players coming back.

Kreitenberg said having beaten the Tartans already this season gave the Lightning confidence.

"Absolutely," Kreitenberg said. "The fact that we shut them down in four games, especially in their gym, was amazing for us. I was still feeling the excitement of that match three days later."

The lingering euphoria of accomplishment from Saturday's victory surely figures to last considerably longer.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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